Elisabeth Easther talks to the executive chef of Hectors Restaurant at Auckland's Heritage Hotel.
Back in Ōtāhuhu in the 1980s, I was a European kid in a mainly Polynesian area. Many of my neighbours were from Thailand, Laos and Cambodia and all my friends from school were Māori, Tongan or Samoan, so I was exposed to lots of cultures and I was always eating lots of different food. I remember how my neighbours' grandparents would marinate beef, then put it on skewers and stick it outside in the sun.
They'd just leave it there for three or four days and, when it was super-dry, they'd eat it with sticky rice.
Nothing fazes me when it comes to eating, although with my job today, I think much more in terms of a vegan philosophy even though I'm still an omnivore. I want to know where my food comes from and I want to know what's in it.
I went on a school trip to Noumea when I was about 14. De La Salle College wasn't a posh school, but somehow those of us learning French ended up going to New Caledonia. We were staying right next to where Whāngārei Girls' High School was staying — that was a lot of laughs. But even worse, it turned out the drinking age in Noumea was 12, or something like that. When we realised we could buy alcohol, there was a little bit of drunkenness but there was lots of cool stuff too and we experienced the culture. They're so chilled. Their culture is all about take it slow, eat, drink, enjoy, but don't get wasted. I'm sure we learnt some French too.
Probably the best place I worked while living and working in the UK, was The Oxo Brassiere and Restaurant on the Southbank. I rocked in, did a trial and they took me on. When my visa ran out, I bought a car with my girlfriend and we drove around Europe for six months. We caught the ferry to Calais, then drove along the southern coast of France, up through Gibraltar, to Spain, Monaco, Italy. Spain was by far the coolest but there's one weird thing, they all they seemed to have their afternoon nap just as we'd drive in and everything would be shut.
In Portugal, there was this place on a hilltop by the sea in Lisbon. We walked to the edge and looked over and you couldn't see the water for fish. We couldn't figure it out and there were no locals to ask, but we wanted to know how it was possible. Eventually we found someone who told us that the fish were feeding on raw sewage that was piped straight into the ocean. We stayed well away from the fish in that place.
In the Czech Republic, we parked the car right next to the tent and one night I thought I heard the car door open. Then I thought, "nah, can't be" and went back to sleep. In the morning our passports, cameras, phones and money were all gone. Luckily, our passports were handed back, but we spent 13 hours in the police station in Prague where they treated us like criminals. We really only cared about our cameras. My Mrs at the time was quite upset as we'd been to Austria to see Beethoven's grave and she'd taken a lot of photos.
"Don't worry," I told her, "we'll get a new camera." So we got a new camera and the next day we're driving along, and she says, "Where are we going?" And I said, "I'm taking us back to Austria, so you can take those pictures again."
When I was teaching, I'd research various topics with my students. There are so many things in our food. Did you know some breads contain human hair and chicken feathers? There's an amino acid that's extracted from human hair obtained from barbers and it's added to some flours. If a supplier can't give me their 100 per cent assurance that their products are vegan, I'll find a new supplier.
There's a misconception about Hectors Restaurant — some people think the whole menu is vegan but it's only about half. The lobby is 100 per cent vegan and the restaurant is about 80-90 per cent vegan at lunch and dinner's about 50 per cent. One of the challenges I've really enjoyed is getting us vegan accreditation. According to my boss, I'm here for the next 20 years but some time in the future, I'd like to have my own place.